– In the August 2019 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR, Serena Williams reveals that she reached out to Naomi Osaka after the 20-year-old beat her at the controversial championship match at the 2018 U.S. Open.
– Williams apologized for calling out the umpire for sexist penalties that caused her to lose the game. She said she wanted to stand up for herself but “had no idea the media would pit” her and Osaka “against each other.”
– Osaka responded saying Williams’s strength was “misunderstood” for anger, and praised the tennis legend as a “trailblazer.” The reply made Williams tear up.
Serena Williams was brought to tears when she received a text message from her 2018 U.S. Open victor, Naomi Osaka, after their controversial finals game. The 37-year-old legend was defeated by the 21-year-old breakout star at the annual tennis tournament last fall. However, it was the penalties given to her (which she claimed were sexist), rather than the actual loss, that really got to Williams.
After the emotional and restless aftermath of the match, Williams decided to reach out and apologize to Osaka, “who deserved so much more in her special moment,” she tells Harper’s BAZAAR in the August 2019 issue.
Related article: Serena Williams Opens Up About Planning Meghan’s Baby Shower
Williams wrote to her fellow athlete:
“Hey, Naomi! It’s Serena Williams. As I said on the court, I am so proud of you and I am truly sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself. But I had no idea the media would pit us against each other. I would love the chance to live that moment over again. I am, was, and will always be happy for you and supportive of you. I would never, ever want the light to shine away from another female, specifically another black female athlete. I can’t wait for your future, and believe me I will always be watching as a big fan! I wish you only success today and in the future. Once again, I am so proud of you. All my love and your fan, Serena.”
Osaka defended Williams’s reaction to her penalties with a wise response via text message:
“People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two. No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing.”
Williams says “tears rolled down my face” when she received Osaka’s note. “It was in this moment that I realized the real reason the U.S. Open was so hard for me to get over: It wasn’t because of the backlash I faced but rather because of what had happened to the young woman who deserved so much more in her special moment,” she explains to BAZAAR. “I had felt that it was my fault and that I should have kept my mouth closed. But now, seeing her text putting everything in perspective, I realized she was right.”
Serena also gave her opponent comforting words on the court. As they collected their trophies after the game, some members of the crowd booed the umpire’s calls against Williams, but Osaka thought the taunts were directed at her and she teared up. That’s when Williams stepped in. “She said that she was proud of me and that I should know that the crowd wasn’t booing at me, so I was really happy that she said that,” Osaka said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show days after the match.
Williams also told BAZAAR that it’s young women like Osaka who inspire her to be vocal about equality, despite the racist insults, body shaming, and unfair penalties she’s received. “In short, it’s never been easy,” she writes in the magazine. “But then I think of the next girl who is going to come along who looks like me, and I hope, ‘Maybe, just maybe, my voice will help her.'”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.